Reflections on a Secular Writers’ Conference: PART ONE

Last weekend, I spoke at an event called GENRE-LA, a mainstream writers’ conference sponsored by West Coast Writers and directed by Tony Todaro. I have to admit, I accepted the invitation to do this with a bit of hesitation.


I attended my first secular writers’ conference about twenty years ago, when I was just beginning my writing journey. I’d been to a few Christian conferences, where everyone—fellow attendees and faculty alike—provided tremendous encouragement and helpful direction for how I could hone my craft and become successful with my writing. But at that secular conference I attended, everyone seemed aloof and unapproachable. The workshops all felt like hour-long commercials for the instructors, as they spent their entire sessions touting themselves and their books. The agents I had appointments with acted like I was a total waste of their precious time. Not one person shared a single useful tip for helping me on my journey. I felt as if they were closely guarding their secrets of success, from me and even from one another, for fear that someone might steal their spots on the bookstore shelves.

Ever since then, I’ve stuck with Christian conferences. I love the atmosphere of camaraderie, where everyone sincerely desires to help one another because we all have the same goal: God’s will … whatever that may be for each person. If the Lord wants my book to be published, He’ll make sure that happens, in His way and in His timing. I don’t have to step on people to get there. And if God wants someone else’s book published, I’m thrilled to be a part of making that happen.

I’ve attended and served on the faculty for numerous Christian writers’ conferences over the years I’ve been in this business. Each has its own unique atmosphere and focus, but they all weave in lots of worship and fellowship among believers. When I’m at a Christian writers’ conference, I feel warmly welcomed, blessed, and encouraged, because I’m among friends. I’m with family.

So a few weeks ago, when a colleague of mine, Steve Hutson, asked me if I’d be interested in teaching at a secular writers’ conference in Los Angeles, my initial reaction was, “No, thank you. I have no desire to take time away from my super-busy home and business schedules to mingle with a bunch of blatantly self-promotional people whose sole reason for being in this business is to make as much money as possible.” (Not that I actually said that to Steve, mind you.)

I also doubted I would fit in or be accepted among a group of secular writers. How would they respond when they saw “Christian” on all of my promotional material, or heard the word “Christian” in my conversations or in the workshops I would present?

Steve told me this conference focused on various genres, and the director wanted “inspirational writing” to be represented. After some thought and prayer, I decided it was time I gave a mainstream conference a second chance—if for no other reason than to determine whether it would be any different from the one I went to twenty years ago. After all, I was a very new writer back then, so my perceptions of the conference may well have been tainted by my naïveté. So I said yes.

To find out how the conference went, come back to my blog on Thursday and read Part 2 of this story!